As cold and flu season is upon us, most of us are looking for natural ways to take care of ourselves and ward off the threat of a cold. One of the best ways to deal with the symptoms of a cold is steam inhalation. Inhalation of steam at temperatures above 109F is thought to inactivate viruses like the rhinovirus, the cause of the common cold. Although it has not been proven that this treatment can “cure” a cold, it can help in alleviating congestion and a runny nose. Steam can be inhaled from a large pot or kettle, the bathroom sink or during a hot shower. An additional tool that can be used with steam inhalation is aromatherapy. Essential oils can be added to the heated water to create a more soothing steam. Eucalyptus oil is effective in killing several viruses and is also antiseptic, analgesic and an expectorant. Another oil that has useful properties is Peppermint oil; the inhalation of the volatile oils found in peppermint makes breathing easier.
Using water to heal the body, hydrotherapy, is an age-old practice. In more modern times, it seems that the use of water as medicine has been turned into something more glamorous in the form of spas with hot and cold immersion pools, steam baths, and saunas. A steam inhalation increases hydration and moisture to the mucous membranes. The dry winter air is the perfect environment for cold viruses to thrive. By increasing fluid intake and moisture to our membranes, we’re flushing out congestion and creating a less hospitable environment for the virus.
One of my favorite uses of hydrotherapy is the Wet Sock treatment. This treatment can easily be done at home and requires a pair of thin cotton socks and a pair of thick wool socks. The cotton socks are soaked in cold water, wrung out and then placed on the feet; the wool socks are placed over the cotton socks and both are left on overnight. This treatment has been show to be an effective treatment in the Upper Respiratory conditions.
The question remains whether or not these and other hydrotherapy methods are effective tools in reducing the severity or duration of a cold. Although the evidence may not fully support that a cold can be ‘cured’, it has been shown that at the very least, they will help you feel better. And sometimes, just feeling a little better is more than enough.